Tuesday, 7 January 2014

2013: Michigan Stadium Laser Show, Last Notre Dame Game, 9-7-13

Let me get this out right up front:  it was an amazing week.  It's not often that one gets unfettered access to every part of Michigan Stadium as part of a crew setting up for a very expensive ($200K+) and highly anticipated part of the halftime show of what was being billed as THE college football game of, well, pretty much all time.  According to the UM Athletic Dept., at least.  This was the last time UM was going to play Notre Dame, maybe forever.

My role was to be the UM liaison part of the laser team as needed, to document the process & event, and to be useful where I could.  This is the kind of production event where, despite all the planning, on-the-spot thinking and coordination is expected.  I have a great deal of experience with live event/theater/media production so this was a natural fit for me.
NOTE my "M" arm sling; this was 2 weeks after a serious shoulder injury.

The planning started in the Spring, and Sunday Sept. 1 found crews from Texas, California and Ann Arbor working with UM staff to get all the gear moved into position, set up and coordinated with the band rehearsals to turn this all into a halftime show at Michigan Stadium.

The loudest reaction in the halftime show was when they turned off ALL the stadium lights.  

Not only has this has never happened before, it's never even been asked about before.  It was not a surprise that many people were reluctant to allow all the lights to be turned off.  In the end, they agreed that the Jumbotron displays at each end of the stadium would provide enough light to keep everyone safe.  It was approved with the bright white screens that were at the start of the show.   It got quite a bit darker when the light level dropped when the screens starting showing live video from the field.

The second loudest reaction was for the laser image of the dancer in the end zones.  

I'm particularly proud of that because of the role of the DMC.  I captured a member of the dance team in the video studio, pulled out sections of specific moves and processed them to provide a movie used to create the outline needed to generate the vector file used by the laser software to "write" the image of the dancer in the end zones.  At the time, it as noted that this (and the DMC) was the only part of the operation that was actually on schedule.  

A lack of timely information kept making things harder as we went along, but the talent, professionalism and dedication of the laser/lighting teams insured that in the end it all worked.  It was clear that this was no one's first rodeo.

The plan had a number of vans with lasers circling the exterior of the stadium: 2 vans with a laser painting the back side of each Jumbotron (scoreboard) with text and images; 3 vans with lasers painting around the crown of Crisler Arena with text and images; 1 laser on the photo deck on the top floor of the press box doing the scrolling text on the top row of panels on the skybox side opposite, 2 lasers under each Jumbotron painting the inside (display) surface of the opposite scoreboard and 2 lasers (one each) on the roof of each tower creating the images on the field.

Bo on the back of the North end scoreboard.
I need to be clear here:  these were very powerful lasers:  safety was our overriding concern.  These were not "laser pointer" lasers. They were more like "No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!" lasers. Any laser requiring 2 or more digits defining its output is dangerous.

Ann Arbor folks were running the lasers in several of the vans.  I took my turn running the scrolling text in the stadium when I wasn't shooting video of the process, and overall it was an experience that I will never forget.  It had me interfacing with UM staff that I would not normally cross paths with, and I got a chance to say hello to some of the TEL Systems staff (Mario & Chris) that are always there on game days standing by or acting as the stadium audio engineer.  Wilm Pierson, the son of a local lighting and production contractor that I've known for 30 years, was the designer and operator for the Synchrotron moving lights.
The synchrolites could be seen for miles...
...but getting them on the roof was "non-trivial".
It was great to see how Athletics does things compared to other units I've worked with on campus.  Resources do make a difference.

OK, here are some links.  More details and more video and photos follow.

My edit of the laser highlights at halftime

A longer clip from the "Mirror Ball Cam" - kind of weird and fun

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